The Personal Information Trainer: Information Training as a No-Extra-Cost Employee Benefit Can Improve Recruitment and Retention-And Enhance the Library's Value Proposition

Article excerpt

Regardless of the fact-based optimism of our profession that sees itself at or near the center of the information age, others do not always share that perception. When we understand our value--but others only see the costs--our positions and influence are at risk. Consequently, we need to plant the seeds that will grow into a changed perception among the decision-makers with whom we work--our value needs to be evident.

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The most effective seed is ourselves, in the form of a well-targeted and sparingly used employee benefit. (1)

This benefit is known as a Personal Information Trainer with the appropriate acronym PIT. After all, a PIT is a seed--even if the term has perhaps a negative connotation. (This does not have to be bad. Broccoli, for example, does not have the best public image as a term, but we all know it to be healthy. Likewise, in this context, the PIT should be known by all to be healthy for productivity, innovation, flexibility, and other elements of competitive advantage that help our institutions grow and succeed.)

My argument is below:

A PIT AS AN EMPLOYEE BENEFIT

The PIT is a professional librarian or information specialist who is assigned to key individuals (very few) deemed to be essential to the success of a firm or institution. The PIT is part of the employment contract (2) with these individuals, a segment of a package designed to attract and retain these talented persons. The role of the PIT is to keep the individual and his or her office up to date on the latest resources useful for productivity and creativity and to provide training as necessary.

The PIT is not "owned" by the individual who has been given this benefit. Nor does the PIT work for the person. In fact, the PIT does similar work for everyone. The difference is that this targeted person gets individual attention and concern while others may be asked to get training as a group. The PIT has an obligation to focus attention on the needs of the target proactively.

WHY CREATE THIS ENTITY? WHAT IS THE GOAL?

Most information centers or libraries (and the professionals who run them) are perceived to be part of the infrastructure of a company or institution. They exist for the benefit of everyone--not unlike a company cafeteria, gym, store, or other internal service.

Of course, an information center is linked to an institution's intellectual capital and, therefore, given higher regard. The respect received may or may not exceed that given to information technologists who service another element of what may be called the information infrastructure. The problem with "infrastructure" is people conceive of it as being free to any member of the institution. (Free from the perspective of users, but a major cost from the perspective of the institution's decision-makers). Things that are free are often taken for granted and, therefore, devalued. Herein is the problem: The library is devalued as a matter of perception by its users who in turn no longer place a demand on the institution to pay the major costs.

How then can decision-makers in an institution be persuaded to change how they conceptualize the role of an information center? In other words, how does one change the image of the information center or library from that of infrastructure for the users to one of valued service--valued enough to keep a demand for its continuance?

The answer is to move away from the egalitarian concept of the library or information center (excellent service for all) to one of exclusivity (excellent service for a few) in terms of user perception.

The emphasis here is user perception. After all, the key problem for libraries historically has been to set up a group dynamic among users in defense of the service value that information professionals provide. As I wrote previously in this publication:

"Nearly all library patrons will indicate that they are happy with library service. …